UPDATED MAY 2020. PLEASE NOTE: Many facilities and businesses in the towns and villages we mention will be closed at the moment. Government advice is to avoid public transport, so don’t travel by train. Please be mindful of the people who live locally, check whether car parks and toilets are open before you set off, do not leave litter, and adhere to social distancing guidelines at all times.
It’s summer in the city, and most of London’s lovely outdoor pools and lidos are closed. Fortunately, you’re now officially allowed to venture out of the city for a day trip to get your fix of alfresco swimming. If the prospect of trekking to the beach to negotiate distanced sunbathing spots doesn’t fill you with enthusiasm, why not try one of these wild swimming spots on the outskirts of London instead?
Whether you’re after an adventurous wild swimming trip or just a quiet place to cool off after a long week of working from home, we’ve gathered a list of the most amazing swimming spots near London, where you can make a getaway without going too far away. Better dig out those speedos…
NOTE: Wild swimming can be dangerous. It’s best not to try if you’re not a strong, experienced swimmer. Please check for potential hazards before you swim.
The best wild swimming spots near London
1. Divers Cove Reservoir, Godstone
Looking for a wild spot for some open-water swimming? You won’t find one much better maintained than Divers Cove, an open-air reservoir in the untamed landscape of a nature reserve. This one’s for serious, competent swimmers, and other activities like triathlon training and scuba diving are also on offer. The water’s guaranteed to be chilly, but, luckily, the changing rooms are heated – winner. Divers Cove reopens from May 20 2020, and advance booking is essential.
Getting there:by car in 1 hour 8 minutes from central London.
Frensham Pond is one of the countryside’s best kept secrets. Amble on over from the car park and you’ll be greeted by wild and undulating flora, lush greenery and sailing boats which drift around as though Monday morning alarms don’t exist. The waters here are clear and fairly shallow, so paddling in the buoyed off swimming areas is a must for even the most timid swimmers, who can just go ankle-deep. When you’re all out of paddle power, retire to the beaches and melt like a Calippo left out in the sun. Just remember to be considerate if you do visit. The heathland surrounding the pretty pond is extremely delicate and home to some critically endangered wildlife so visitors should be careful and stick to designated areas and walkways.
Getting there:by car in 1 hour 13 minutes from central London.
Between Byron’s Pool and King’s Mill Weir, there’s a roughly 2-mile-long, watery stretch where experienced wild swimmers can get in touch with the elements. Lower yourself into the Cam’s upper reaches and float through a dreamscape of vast meadows, low-hanging willow trees and smooth, arched bridges. If you’re more of the adventurous type, then join the traditional New Year’s Day swim in the Cam, where a bunch of intrepid aquanauts get splashy in frosty waters. Some say the experience is invigorating. Others say it’s just very, very cold. Getting there: by car in 1 hour 12 minutes from central London.
Photograph: Andy Scott
4. Wey Navigation, Shalford
Out into the Surrey Hills, an area of outstanding natural beauty about an hour from Waterloo, you’ll find the village of Shalford. From there, you can follow the River Tillingbourne north until you reach the Wey Navigation, where you’ll find one of the most peaceful, quaint spots of wild swimming in the south – not a bit of London craziness about it. Look out for the tiny sandy beaches inviting you down into the water, or head for the bridge in Shalford Park – a popular (if prohibited) jumping spot for local teenagers.
Getting there:by car in 1 hour 2 minutes from central London.
Photograph: Peter O'Connor
5. River Thames, Marlow
Home to a famous annual river regatta, the picturesque Buckinghamshire town of Marlow is a place where life on and in the water seems to be part of the deal. Just outside is Little Marlow, where popular swimming spots include the beautiful turn in the river at the end of Ferry Lane, heading out of nearby Medmenham. Further east, about halfway between Marlow station and Cock Marsh, you’ll find a beachy patch of the Thames ideal for more family-orientated swims. As always, beware of river traffic – there’s plenty of it here.
Getting there:by car in 49 minutes from central London.
6. Walpole Bay Tidal Pool, Margate
Margate’s unique tidal pool is usually reserved for hardcore wild swimmers who brave the chilly waters that flow in from the North Sea. But when the sun finally makes an appearance, more bold members of the public have also been known to take the plunge. Jumping into this enclosed part of Walpole Bay is an fab activity if you want to embrace your inner Michael Phelps without drifting too far from the shore. Bear in mind, though, that whatever the weather, the tidal pool is best for strong swimmers since the deepest point slopes down to 6 ft 6. Getting there: by car in 1 hour 47 minutes from central London.
7. River Thames, Pangbourne Meadow
Pangbourne Meadows is an effortlessly romantic swimming spot for strong swimmers, with scenic bridges, velvety waters and vast grassy verges. To get in and out, head east of the weir where there are boat ramps, and then bathe with uninterrupted views of chalk beaches and the Chiltern Hills. When you’re done backstroking, saunter along the Thames path and enjoy visions of the vista that inspired Kenneth Grahame (the guy who wrote ‘Wind in the Willows’). Just make sure you keep an eye out for traffic if you’re looking out from Whitchurch bridge. Halcyon days, indeed. Getting there: by car in 1 hour 17 minutes from central London.
8. River Isis, Port Meadow, Oxford
A vast stretch of common land roamed by cows and horses, Port Meadow stretches for nearly two miles along the upper stretches of the Thames (known here as the Isis). It’s a popular spot for locals to go for a dip on hot days, but the size of the place means there’s always a free spot to slip into the cold, clear water. Try either down by Fiddler’s Island, the nearest point to central Oxford, or upriver at Godstow and Wolvercote, where you’ll find the remains of a former official bathing place.
Getting there: by car in 1 hour 20 minutes from central London.